Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Broadening Who We Are...And Our Impact

This was an unusual summer for me – and for all of us at AFP International. With all the change AFP has been undergoing, we had a unique opportunity to use the more deliberate pace of the summer months to think critically about the AFP we are today, and to plan creatively for the AFP we want to be in the future.

We have initiated conversations with new friends and loyal mentors to talk about AFP’s position—and potential—in an evolving philanthropic sector. Members, peers and sector influencers had important things to tell us about our relevance and our influence. These candid conversations helped us refine our strategic priorities for the next three years in categories such as Education, Ethics and Advocacy, Capacity-Building and Diversity and Inclusion.  They even influence the language we’ll adopt later in the fall for our mission and vision statements, as well as our guiding principles.

One of the key principles we’ve gathered from these conversations is the sense that the AFP community has to be broader than what we are right now—both in terms of people and ideas. There is a heightened sense of urgency in our community to keep pace with social innovators who are upending traditional philanthropy by infusing unprecedented funds into charitable issues. The words “fundraising” and “fundraiser” carry connotations that don’t necessarily represent the knowledge, ethics and impact of the work our members do.  It doesn’t represent the sense of personal responsibility many AFP members and others feel about acquiring more knowledge, more experience and exercising more creativity to advance the promise of Good the world over.

That principle is already being integrated into some of our programs—like our annual Leadership Academy happening next month in October. We’ll continue our tradition of meetings to support chapter leaders in their important work, but we’re also transitioning the Academy into an experience that addresses contemporary leadership and professional career development challenges sector-wide. We want to help newcomers to the profession with education and empowerment to pursue an ambitious career path, while also supporting seasoned professionals in building the kinds of skills that position them to advance into CEO and board leadership posts.

It’s not just about members raising more money—it’s about being able to serve as fundraising literacy ambassadors who can influence cultures of philanthropy within their own organizations.

It’s not too late to register for our 2016 Leadership Academy in Portland, Oregon, October 20-22.  You don’t have to be an AFP member to register (but members receive a substantial discount…think about it!)

You’re going to see more of this sort of thinking in the coming months. After several months of research, we have now tremendously valuable insights about the way members see AFP’s unique value proposition.  I want to thank all of you who participated in our focus groups and online surveys. This new data on the DNA of AFP informs the way we will build on our brand equity and represent the true contributions we make to the profession and to philanthropy in general.  You’ll hear more on this in the months ahead as we cultivate a brand promise that speaks to our role as catalysts for philanthropy.

Let’s keep the dialogue going, and I look forward to seeing you in October.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Visualizing the Overhead Costs Issue

It’s been great to see the movement over the last several years in the overheads costs discussion. Watchdog groups and others have come out saying that overhead costs aren’t a good measure of impact, and more and more research shows that charities and nonprofits investing in infrastructure and overhead—human relations, board support, technology, and other direct and indirect expenses—can be quite successful and well positioned for future success.

But we still have a long way to go in communicating our argument to the giving public. The idea that overhead and fundraising costs somehow measure impact and success seems to be deeply ingrained in many donors, government officials, the media and others.

Ask any marketer—as strong as our arguments are, sometimes you need something simple, something visual, something that gets quickly and easily to the core of your idea.

That’s why I’m really impressed with Curtis Klotz’ recent blog about new ways to “visualize” the overhead costs issue. Instead of the standard pie chart, where fundraising and administrative costs fall into their usual slivers of the budget, his concentric circles demonstrate how every project and program charities run are dependent upon all types of costs and overhead. We see the true costs of programs in a very quick way that’s easy to take in.

I hope this sort of visual catches on, and I encourage you and your organization to consider using it. It’s representative of the sort of innovative thinking we need as we work to educate people about overhead costs and other tough, yet important issues.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Strong Year in 2015: What Lies Ahead?

For the second consecutive year, the annual Giving USA report brings us very good news.

As you have probably seen by now, data from Giving USA 2016 reports that total giving grew by four percent in 2015 to more than $373 billion. Coupled with the six percent growth in 2014, total giving has increased by more than 10 percent over the last two years.

Those are numbers that would have been difficult to imagine even just a couple of years ago. But for the second consecutive year, giving has reached a new record high and far surpassed levels seen before the recession.

While not every organization has seen such tremendous growth in giving, the impact on the overall sector is undeniable. The sector, and all of philanthropy, is in much better shape than it was at the beginning of the decade and has recovered far more quickly than anyone expected.

Nevertheless, challenges remain. Despite the increases over the past two years, giving has remained at about two percent of Gross Domestic Product, as it has for most of the past 50 years. It is a reminder that we have a ways to go to reach giving levels that will allow us to not just ameliorate, but solve the problems we face today.

 There is also concern that giving this year may drop. The rate of giving in 2015 was lower than in 2014, and some experts see an even greater drop this year, especially as we head into the latter part of 2016.

We will need to use all of our accumulated fundraising knowledge and skills to ensure we have another successful year in 2016. And Giving USA 2016 is a great resource to use. Not only does it have year-by-year statistics, but contains a variety of great information about giving and highlights key trends you can use in your own fundraising efforts.

AFP members get a 30 percent discount off of Giving USA products.  You can find the discount code here on the AFP website, along with more resources and perspective about the latest giving numbers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

To Serve You Better

It’s been a busy time at AFP – and elsewhere in the world.  We’re seeing so many examples of how the nonprofit sector and fundraisers are such a valued commodity in our communities.  From heatwaves and wildfires in the Canadian and U.S. west, to major flooding in Texas, and the brutal attack on the night club in Orlando, so many of the nonprofit organizations our members represent are coming together to provide support, comfort and to rebuild devastated communities.  Fundraisers and their colleagues are on the front lines every day, addressing crises large and small.  Let me take a moment to recognize all that you do to bring compassion, empathy and services to people who are in need.

With that in mind, I want to talk for a moment about what we are doing to serve you better in the wake of several significant transitions at AFP.  We are working diligently to create an environment that enhances stability and promotes managed growth.  Our core programs remain strong and we’re moving ahead with our strategic plan that advances our commitment to education, to diversity and inclusion, to advocacy and ethics and to capacity-building for the future. There are no plans for a future reduction in force.  We are proud of our staff and making a conscious decision to invest in their professional development and careers.

We have made a concerted effort to streamline our budget and to evaluate programs and opportunity carefully against criteria for measurable returns on our investment.  We need to consistently benchmark progress against revenue goals and advancement of strategies for education, diversity, ethics and advocacy and investment.  This is not simply in response to our annual summer cash flow issue; it is, in fact, a new culture of accountability and continuous refinement of our business approaches.

You’ll hear us talk more and more about value and the member experience. As we move forward with our plans for Leadership Academy in Portland in 2016, the International Fundraising Conference in San Francisco in 2017, our web and database upgrades, new educational offerings and other projects, we are calling on chapter leaders, volunteers and partners to join in on ways to define and deliver exceptional value in those areas.

We’ve already started bringing more people to the table to start Big Conversations about where AFP is going and how we are going to get there:
  • AFP Ethics Committee recently held its June call where it reviewed pending cases and considered revisions to our hypothetical case studies.
  • We hosted the Conference Education Advisory Committee (EAC) to review nearly 500 submissions for educational sessions at the 2017 International Conference. As part of the review, we engaged in a holistic discussion of the educational experience the conference offers, and thought through strategies to bring more relevant learning opportunities to more people in our sector.
  • We welcomed the ACFRE Board to the office for discussions around key issues such as candidate recruitment and the internationalization of the credential.
  • I participated in the Grow Charity Now event on Capitol Hill where 40+ attendees met with various congressional offices about charitable giving incentives and other public policy matters related to philanthropy.
  • Our volunteer-driven brand and mission/vision research projects are nearing an end and we are eager to hear results and recommendations detailed in July.  In advance of the big reveal, I can share with you that both are calling on AFP to present itself in a more aspirational, inspirational and human voice.
  • With the engagement and endorsement of the Marketing and Communications Committee, we have awarded a bid to a web developer and work will begin shortly on our web revitalization project.  We are planning soft launch of the site’s Phase One improvements t the conference in San Francisco in the spring.  More than 3,000 AFP members have volunteered for web project committees and user testing!  Web improvements coincide with our Personify upgrade that promises better, cleaner use of data.
I hope you will feel free to reach out to me or to our senior staff if you have ideas or questions about  AFP and our path forward.  If you plan to be at the October Leadership Academy or the 2017 International Fundraising Conference in San Francisco in April, or any of several gatherings we’ll be at in between, let’s connect and say hello.  I would love to hear what you are thinking about AFP and how we can continue to enhance our value to the members and the fundraising profession.

Thank you for all that you do for AFP, your chapters, and the profession. I look forward to working with all of you in my new capacity.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A New Beginning

by Jason Lee, JD

Today I’ve accepted the appointment of interim president and CEO, with Andrew Watt, FInstF, stepping down to pursue other opportunities.

Andrew is a friend and mentor, and I’ve learned a lot from him. He contributed mightily to AFP, and it is with mixed emotions that I see him leave.

I’ve had the privilege of serving AFP for 12 years now: first as director of government relations, then as general counsel, and now as interim president and CEO. Together, through collaboration with AFP chapters and members, as well as other sector organizations, we’ve made a great impact in the area of public policy. And I’m committed to bringing that impact now to all areas of AFP and the fundraising community.

I’m not a fundraiser by trade but the last 12 years has given me a strong sense of what the fundraising community needs to grow and thrive—to inspire donors to work with us and create impact that changes the world. And I have some have great people to help me in this mission: our dedicated staff, amazing board, and tremendous members just like you.

I’m the interim President & CEO, but that doesn’t mean that we’re just going to tread water. If we only do that, we won’t get far. We have to move forward—focusing on our priorities, such as our strategic plan and service to our membership.

We’re entering a new phase for AFP, one that will be especially focused on building and strengthening relationships with members and stakeholders. It is a time that will see AFP investing meaningfully in diversity and inclusion, education, advocacy and our capacity to influence trends in the sector.

AFP remains a stable, dynamic and united force for the advancement of the fundraising profession.  We have the talent, knowledge and resources—through staff and members, at IHQ and our chapters—to make an extraordinary difference: advancing the fundraising profession so we can help better change the world.

I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and get things done, something I learned from my parents. I grew up in Texas because my dad worked as an aerospace engineer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston (yes, an actual rocket scientist!).  If you remember the story of Apollo 13, the space capsule that became disabled between the Moon and Earth, there were various engineers who came up with creative solutions to save the three astronauts. My dad was one of them.

I’ve worked to live up to that legacy of commitment and creativity my whole life. I’m also proud that throughout my career, I’ve brought very different groups of people together to accomplish great things that have impacted our sector.

I’m looking forward to working with all of you—especially our dedicated and talented AFP staff—as we move our association and foundations forward into the future.

I know AFP. I love AFP. I believe in AFP. And I know you do too.  I’m humbled to help lead AFP into the future, and look forward to your assistance and insight. Please contact me if you have any questions or comments—I’m happy to talk with you at this important time.